The debate over the future of the Maplewood Manor county nursing home is expected to dominate discussion when Saratoga County supervisors hold the public hearing on the proposed 2013 county budget today.
The hearing on the $300.5 million spending plan will start at 5:30 p.m. in the county board meeting rooms in Ballston Spa.
The proposal includes a 1.6 percent property tax increase, but public comment is likely to focus more on the board’s plan to sell its Maplewood Manor nursing home in Ballston Spa because of that facility’s annual financial losses.
“I suspect a lot of the comment will focus on the infirmary,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Thomas N. Wood, R-Saratoga.
To stem the losses, the board plans to transfer ownership of Maplewood Manor to a local development corporation early next year. The LDC will then sell it to a private buyer, in a process likely to last through the end of 2014.
The 277-bed facility loses $8 million or more each year, as do county-run nursing homes across the state. More than a dozen other counties around the state are considering similar measures rather than raise taxes the amount that would be needed to underwrite the losses.
“The county simply cannot continue to sustain those kinds of losses,” Wood said.
The LDC will be able to borrow money against the future sale proceeds and use that money to cover the infirmary’s current losses. The proposed budget assumes the county will receive $6 million in revenue next year from LDC borrowing.
That borrowing, together with the closing of a 40-bed wing at the nursing home, is expected to reduce what was going to be a $10.4 million county nursing home subsidy to $2.8 million in 2013.
The privatization plan has angered county employees, however, and employees and families of Maplewood residents spoke for two hours at a board meeting Nov. 20 at which the board voted to authorize forming the local development corporation.
The 2013 budget proposal originally includes a 2.5 percent tax increase, but the increase was reduced last month after supervisors said they saved $400,000 by changing health insurance providers, and adding $98,580 in revenue to come from selling 16 acres at the county landfill site in Northumberland to the county sewer district.
As the spending plan now stands, the average county property tax rate countywide would be $2.27 per $1,000, meaning the county tax bill on a $250,000 house would be $567.50. That’s up from a $2.23 per $1,000 average tax rate this year.
If the budget is approved, 2013 would be the second year in a row that county property taxes have risen.
Overall spending is actually down 1.6 percent from 2012. County officials said they took a variety of budget-tightening measures to reduce costs in 2013, but couldn’t avoid a tax increase.
County Law and Finance Committee Chairman Alan R. Grattidge, R-Charlton, said department heads were urged to trim routine expenses, and 95 positions have been eliminated over the last two years as they became vacant, leading to an overall reduction in spending.
“We’re actually spending less next year than this year, and that’s with a number of mandated costs,” Grattidge said.
The proposed budget contains $4 million in new revenue anticipated from the planned sale or lease of the unused county landfill, which would be taken over by a private landfill operator.
The county has received proposals from three potential buyers, and continues to negotiate with all three.
The Board of Supervisors is expected to adopt the budget at a special meeting on Dec. 12.